Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebration Review

Shakespeare's Birthday Celebration
Event dated 25 April 2021

Reviews :

Shakespeare's Birth Anniversary Celebration by The Book Club Pune  today  was certainly an outstanding event of the year.

It was most heartening to listen to the variety entertainment presented by some of our eminent members. .

Mohini Khot, our enterprising authority on English Literature, gave a brilliant start to the program with her well worded introduction to Shakespeare, the all time favourite of litterateurs. She supported her talk about this most celebrated author with a slideshow incorporating some of his portraits, his cottage in Stratford on Avon and  his first Folio Edition of plays.

Mohini also touched upon the debates and controversies related to the authenticity of the authorship of Shakespeare's writings. Some critics down the ages have doubted the credentials of Shakespeare as the author of his prolific output of Sonnets , Tragedies, Comedies and Historical Plays. The controversy started in the 19th century. Since Shakespeare grew up in the cultural backwater of Stratford, had a very ordinary school education, no university education, no exposure to the world of royalty or aristocracy, how could he possibly have written of the lives of people of that class? How could he possibly know about aristocratic pursuits like hunting and falconry?

In this connection, Mohini referred to Shakespeare's contemporaries -  Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford) and the erudite Sir Francis Bacon - as writers who could have taken the pen name of Shakespeare and written the works we admire so much.

Mohini displayed some pictures of  Stratford on Avon , Shakespeare's birthplace,his mother's  home  and Anne Hathaway's cottage which she and Satish had visited in 2016.She also showed us a paper cutting of her article about their visit and some of their pics including one unusual one of Satish holding a live owl and demonstrating falconry.

She briefly sketched the history of theatres in London. She also screened pictures of the exterior and interior of the Globe and other theatres of the time.

Further Mohini talked about Shakespeare's 154 Sonnets which were modelled on the Sonnets of the Italian poet Petrarch. Whereas Petrarch's Sonnets were addressed to a beautiful virtuous lady named Laura, most of Shakespeare's Sonnets are addressed to his male friend Earl of Southampton who was his patron. From Sonnet 129 onwards they are addressed to a woman but this woman is a far cry from the blonde haired, blue eyed goddess of Petrarchan poems.

 

From this point Dr Prashant Sinha took over from Mohini Khot and talked about the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's Sonnets  and the controversy surrounding this mysterious character . Dr Sinha mentioned blazen and anti blazen views regarding the Dark Lady. Some critics referred to several ladies known to Shakespeare while some others presumed that Shakespeare may be addressing an imaginary lady as per literary convention and speaking about his own feelings and views.

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Chetan Shetty came out with an interesting Quiz on Shakespeare's writings. Some of our erudite members could guess the answers within a second.

This was followed by Ahmed Karim's well expressed Soliloquy from the Tragedy Macbeth.

Zakiya  Kurrien read out the Prologue from the historical drama. John Kurrien entertained us with a delightful song from As You Like It and also recited a speech from Henry V.

Indu Kulkarni recited the oft quoted speech by Portia  from The  Merchant of Venice .

 

After another interlude in a lighter vein by way of comic relief, Chetan Shetty brought out  another round of Quiz Questions based on Shakespeare's writings.

The Quiz round was followed by  Sheena Shahani's review of a recently published novel entitled Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell. It was a succinct introduction which aroused much interest in the book.

Satish Khot regaled us with 24  unusual  insulting  almost bawdy and vulgar  phrases  from Shakespeare's  writings .

During the round of feedback from members, Neelam Punjabi rightly opined that this program was wonderful. She compared it to a masala Bollywood film, full of different kinds of entertainment.

We had a large number of participants and everyone enjoyed the program.

- Kusum Gokarn

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By Sonal Devjani

The evening celebrated the poetic genius of the Bard of Avon. Passion and admiration flowed as Dr. Mohini Khot introduced the inimitable, one-of-a-kind playwright.

Dr. Khot gave a befitting introduction to the enigmatic persona whom we know as William Shakespeare, yet mystery shrouds his true identity even 457 years since his birth. Historical records have very little to offer. 23 April 1616 is recorded as the date of death of William Shakespeare and 26 April 1564 is recorded as the day of his baptism but the day of his birth remains uncertain. Even his birthplace, built up as a huge tourist attraction, may not have been his actual place of birth.

In the 19th century a controversy arose regarding the identity of the playwright/poet. Since Shakespeare came from a cultural backwater such as Stratford, had a very ordinary education and no college experience, no exposure to the sophisticated world of the aristocracy, could he really have written plays which show an intimate knowledge of the life at court? Three popular alternatives have been offered as possible authors of Shakespeare’s works. Dr. Khot shared an intriguing piece of popular conjecture that Christopher Marlowe just might have re-invented himself as William Shakespeare, after his death was feigned. Another alternative often offered is Sir Francis Bacon. Erudite, scholarly, nephew of Lord Burghley (Secretary of State), Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England, Bacon certainly knew the world we see depicted in the plays. He was a patron of libraries and invented the library cataloguing system. The third alternative offered is Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. A favourite at Court, Oxford was known as a poet and playwright in his own times and even maintained his own company of players known as Oxford’s Men. Quite the likely contender!

Dr. Khot took the audience through Shakespeare’s journey to London’s world of theatre. She gave a brief account of the theatres available to Shakespeare to stage his plays. She showed several slides of the Globe as it was then and as it is now.

Dr. Khot left us with a short introduction to his sonnets, tracing the origin of the form from the Italian poet Petrarch.

Dr. Prashant Sinha took the cue to commence the erudite interpretation of the The Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Shakespeare, known to steer off the beaten track, dedicated most of his sonnets to a beautiful young man, presumably the Earl of Southampton, his patron.

He shed light on the two conventions of sonnet-writing - Blazen and Anti- Blazen, both of which Shakespeare embraced fully. He blended both and created a synergy in his signature style.

Citing  Sonnet 130, Dr Sinha showed how Shakespeare turns the Petrarchan sonnet on its head, making it a parody. The poet does not adore in the typical Petrarchan style but finds imperfections and faults in his beloved.  The poet declares that the lady is promiscuous but perhaps it is this that leads him on.

To extend the celebration, Chetan Shetty’s quiz was interspersed with the intellectual discourse, to add an element of fun to the evening. The questions were offbeat and interesting and very current.  An interesting question concerned a board game named after one of Shakespeare’s protagonists and another dealt with a sculpture inspired by Shakespeare.

An interesting recitation and dramatization of the plays was presented by Ahmed Karim, John and Zakiya Kurrien and Indu Kulkarni. The audience listened in rapt attention as the presenters recreated the scenes with great finesse. Especially pleasurable was the rendition of a song from As You Like It by John Kurrien.

Finally an interesting twist was presented by Sheena Shahani, who presented a succinct review of Hamnet, a recent novel by Maggie O’Farrell, inspired by the life and death of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, which deals with the parents’ grief at the sudden death of their child. Agnes, the mother, comes across as a feminist character. Judith, the daughter puts a touching question to her parents: what is the word to describe a twin who is no longer part of the set because she her twin has died.

The cherry on the cake was the presentation of Shakespearean insults by Satish Khot.

The evening presented a wholesome experience of Shakespeare’s flavours, catering to the litterati as well as the groundlings, relished by both in equal measure.